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Football Manager boss disputes PlayStation's "value destructive" Xbox Game Pass claim

"I don't recognise that in our business, it's all very sunny for us."

Among the many, many claims and discoveries flying around in the wake of Microsoft's ongoing FTC lawsuit over the attempted purchase of Activision Blizzard, one particular quote stands out: PlayStation boss Jim Ryan's accusation that Xbox Game Pass and other subscription-based services are "value destructive" to video games.

Ryan, speaking in pre-recorded video testimony, also claimed other publishers "unanimously do not like Game Pass" for that reason. When pressed by Microsoft's lawyer, he added: "I talk to publishers all the time, and this is a very commonly-held view over many years by the publishers."

Talking to Eurogamer yesterday, Miles Jacobson, studio head of Sports Interactive, the Sega-owned developer of the ever-popular Football Manager series, disagreed with that quite directly.

"Every studio is going to have different opinions on this," Jacobson explained, "and different studios will have different data, because different games work well in different situations. For us, it's nothing but positive on all three platforms.

"We run quite a tight ship," he continued, "and I like our studio to be profitable - Sega took a big gamble on us all those years ago, and their shareholders - however weird it might sound - should be rewarded for that. So we don't tend to do deals that are bad for any parts of the business."

For Sports Interactive, Jacobson cites subscription services as having had a major impact on Football Manager's reach. "With the success of our launches on Game Pass for Xbox and PC, this year saw us bring back Football Manager Touch for Apple Arcade and launch FM23 Console on PlayStation 5, both of which have exceeded our expectations," he wrote in a recent development blog.

Before the studio launched Football Manager on those platforms, it saw "close to two million players a year". With the most recent entry FM23, that number is "currently at 4.8m and still growing".

"The simple fact is Game Pass and Apple Arcade have brought new people to the franchise that never played it before," Jacobson told Eurogamer. "I'm confident enough in our games to believe we will now have those consumers for a long time, whatever platforms we're on. Fiscally, it makes sense. Creatively, it makes sense.

"Learnings-wise, it makes sense as well," he explained. "We were looking at games as a service... Game Pass and Apple Arcade are games as a service platforms that we're in. So you're learning a lot more about that audience as well as you're going along. And there's no way we would have reached five million players on FM23 without the audiences on those platforms - with PlayStation being an added bonus on top, because we've done much better on PlayStation than we were expecting."

As Jacobson explained, subscriptions services like Game Pass have, if anything, been closer to a unanimously positive experience for the studio. "Every studio has to make decisions themselves, but I don't recognise some of the quotes that I see from other studios, and depositions. I don't recognise that in our business. It's all very sunny for us," he concluded.

Jacobson's opinion chimes with that of the game's publisher Sega, as well. Speaking to Eurogamer for our report on the long-term viability of Game Pass for developers, publishers, and players in 2021, Anna Downing, senior vice president of commercial publishing at Sega Europe, said the publisher was "really happy with the results, and we hope [Microsoft] are too. Ultimately, they wanted quality titles, we wanted to take advantage of a great new opportunity."

As an example then, Downing cited Two Point Hospital's launch on Game Pass in 2020, which she said "helped propel the franchise to over three million players worldwide. That's a huge benefit of being on Game Pass, it strengthens the exposure you get to a huge first-party audience... That surge in engagement in turn helps to further establish your product in the marketplace. It's great for us and it's great for consumers who get to experience something they may not have engaged with outside of the Game Pass model."

Mike Rose, of indie publisher No More Robots - which has brought cult hits like Hypnospace Outlaw, SlayersX, Descenders, and Yes, Your Grace to Game Pass, among others - also agreed, joking: "What more does a developer or publisher need than a shitload of players and a shitload of money?"

Screenshot of the PC game pass listings showing FM23 amongst several other sports games

"The last Game Pass deal we did," he explained, "we've basically then just taken the money that came from that deal, and we're now funding three more games... we've got four games coming out this year and three of those were essentially funded using Game Pass money." The cyclical effect of this can, he explained, be transformative for small or mid-sized publishers. "It's taken us from 'let's keep doing what we're doing' to 'we can start funding bigger things now' - we can really help different people out."

Not all publishers were unanimously happy at the time, naturally. Michael Douse of independent developer-publisher Larian had positive things to say but also shared some reservations. "My concern, I suppose, is that maybe we risk going back to that state where actually you're making games for catalogue strategies - ie. retail shelves - and less for players," he said.

On the topic of Sega, meanwhile, Jacobson also briefly discussed the news that Microsoft had considered the idea of buying Sega back in 2001.

"You know, if those conversations happen, they happen, I wouldn't know whether they did or not," Jacobson told Eurogamer. "Sonic certainly didn't tell me anything about them," he joked, "and he can be a little bit prickly sometimes, but he normally does tell me the stuff that's going on.

"We're really happy being a part of Sega," he added, "and they give us the ability to run our business pretty much independently... so we like that freedom. I've no idea what that freedom would be like if were with another company, but there are certainly no regrets about becoming a part of Sega, from our perspective.

"If Sega were to be bought by somebody else, then I hope we will be treated exactly the same way Sega treat us. Because that's the right way to be dealing with developers. But it's a hypothetical question, right? Because I've no idea whether those conversations happen, and I would be surprised if those conversations weren't happening from lots of different people regularly."

You can read much more from our lengthy conversation with Jacobson, meanwhile, in our big interview on the future of Football Manager.

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